Geza Rohrig on Holocaust drama ‘Son of Saul’: ‘Death is everywhere’ [Podcast]

son of saul geza rohrig interview oscar

You may not have seen Geza Rohrig’s face in many films (if any, since his IMDb page lists only one credit), but once you see him in “Son of Saul,” you won't forget him. He makes an indelible impression as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz who tries to give a proper burial to a young boy whose body he finds in the gas chamber. In our exclusive audio interview (listen below), Rohrig talks about his work in the film, which was a huge hit at Cannes and is a frontrunner for this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

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“Saul is a community of one,” says Rohrig of his character. “He is a lonely man. At the time the movie starts, he’s already dead, a walking dead who is being resurrected by the death of this boy. The life of the boy somehow transmits to his body, and that added energy — or sanctity — stumps Saul and opens his eyes.”

Throughout the film, Saul tries desperately to save the boy's body from autopsy, claiming him as his son and searching for a rabbi to say Kaddish before the burial. “There is so much death around him,” says Rohrig. “If death is everywhere, death is nowhere. Out of all these countless, thousands of deaths, one kind of stood out because this death was different, and behaved as a sign.”

When Saul first sees the boy, he has survived the gas chamber, only to be killed a moment later by a Nazi doctor. “The rule is not to survive the gas chamber, so if someone does survive that is a miracle,” he continues. “He was in debt to this boy. He was grateful to this boy. I’m not saying this is a conscious thought on the part of Saul, but he felt that he owes this boy a proper burial.”

The film, directed by first-timer Laszlo Nemes, has won raves from critics, with many singling out Rohrig’s performance. Justin Chang (Variety) wrote, “Rohrig, an amazing find, requires no grand speeches or overtly introspective moments to hold our attention for nearly every second of the 107-minute running time. His eyes seem to radiate a determination and moral clarity that extends beyond the here and now, his actions suggesting a desperate will to believe in a God who could scarcely seem more absent.”

Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com) says, “His eyes are both mournful and driven, knowing that this final act of religious dedication is something that matters. Throughout all of this horror, it’s important.”

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"Son of Saul" photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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